Are foreign heart patients more important than local ones?

CAP is appalled at the Health Ministry’s Malaysian Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC)’s manipulation of the public healthcare dedicated Institut Jantung Negara (IJN)’s goals and ideals.
The MHTC has reportedly facilitated the involvement of 8 American companies which include 3 insurance companies with the intention of subverting IJN’s original objectives at the 2nd World Medical Tourism and Global Health congress recently.
When IJN was developed and launched in 1992 with taxpayers’ money, it was with the objective of providing good and quality healthcare for the poor and middle class.
The government promised us that IJN would be a centre to serve all people with heart diseases, irrespective of race and with due care and treatment for the poor.
Assurance was given that heart patients would be treated fairly as in all Government-run hospitals and that IJN would not be an exclusive hospital for the rich and well-to-do.
People from all walks of life would be allowed to enjoy the facilities in the special heart hospital.
Incredibly, the Government has now forsaken the very people for whom IJN was created for — the sickly poor — in favour of American Dollars.
The Government and Ministry of Health, through the MHTC, has endorsed the subversion of IJN from a public-funded healthcare institute for the rakyat to an expensive tourist attraction for the rich and foreign.
As it is, medical care for serious diseases is only affordable by the rich here.
It is unfair and morally wrong of the Government to switch its rakyat-oriented focus to being a provider of medical services in favour of rich foreigners from a First World country like America when medical care for serious diseases is not even affordable to our rakyat from the middle- and lower-income groups.
It was just last year that the Government announced its intention to privatise IJN only to revoke its decision amidst widespread public outcry.
Now, it is aiming for foreign revenue while disregarding the financial difficulties faced by the average heart patient from the lower and middle financial strata here. If IJN focuses its direction on providing medical services to rich foreigners, prices for its services to the average Malaysian will undoubtedly increase while priority is lowered.
The poor rakyat who form the majority of the patients will suffer, and being unable to afford the high medical costs, access to IJN’s health care will be out of reach for most.
In spite of this, a research report “Malaysia Medical Tourism Outlook 2012” by RNCOS, a market research consultancy, revealed that “unlike several Western countries, patients don’t have to encounter long waiting periods in Malaysia.”
If this is the case with IJN, what chance does the average low-income Malaysian patient have in receiving urgent treatment as opposed to the rich American who is prepared to pay more for the same treatment?
The publicly-funded IJN is now even listed on foreign tourism websites. A Canadian online tour and travel agency, A-Z Tours ( even advertises IJN alongside other privately owned hospitals in the country.
Some of the services offered to clients include angiogram and angioplasty procedures via radial artery, implantation of AICSs, minimally invasive surgeries, stent implantations, endoscopic vein harvesting, off-pump surgeries, bypass surgeries on “awake” patients, implantation of mechanical heart assist devices, heart transplants, open-heart and closed-heart surgeries, bone marrow stem cell transplant for severe ischemic heart disease, inpatient and outpatient treatments and complete rehabilitation programmes, including physical, emotional and diet programmes.
All of these procedures and more are readily available in any one of the numerous American cardiac centres for as much as 14 times more than what is charged at IJN.
CAP questions why IJN is allowed by the Government to cater almost exclusively to these foreigners when our own sickly poor are facing a myriad of difficulties in getting urgent treatment.
Is foreign revenue more important than the health of our rakyat?
Is this what IJN has become? Has it become another corporate entity intent on enriching itself while leaving the very people who funded its development to be left to fend for themselves? In whose interest is this change of priorities surreptitiously done? Is it to benefit the Malaysian public or to accommodate corporate greed? How can anyone but the rich corporation and the wealthy foreigner benefit, and from such a callous move?
The rationale by the Ministry of Health on the establishment of the MHTC is that it arose from the recognition that health tourism was one of the key approaches to attaining sustained economic growth.
This may be true for some quarters but not for the average rakyat who is struggling to make ends meet. How can someone from the middle- or low-income groups cope with the escalating costs of medical care that comes with medical tourism?
What about the hardcore poor? The difficulties they face in obtaining financial assistance when they are diagnosed with serious diseases are often unknown to the public.
Where do they go for specialised cardiac treatment? Expensive private healthcare facilities are out of the question. This leaves only the IJN as a last resort and refuge for the sickly poor.
From April 2004 to January 2008 the Ministry of Welfare and Family Development obtained exemptions from IJN for 133 heart patients, totalling RM2,164,713.30. IJN medical welfare officers approved these exemptions after carrying out assessments of these cases.
Will the same level of cooperation and social compassion be extended to the needy public if IJN becomes a centre for medical tourism?
Focusing on medical tourism will impair this important role that is so vital for the future of cardiac care in the country. Ironically, the MHTC, while making earnest and concrete plans for IJN to focus on medical tourism, has only succeeded in discussing “the possibility of collaborating with the Cedars Sinai Medical Centre, University of California Los Angeles and the University of South California in enhancing health delivery” when this should be its main thrust in improving its services to the rakyat.
Public healthcare is a basic necessity of the people and is a service, not a business. By subverting IJNs primary objectives, vision, mission and core values aimed at the healthcare of the community, the Government is actually abandoning one of its major social responsibilities to the rakyat.
The Government should look at the principle of governance carefully and not hand over its social responsibility to corporate greed. It must not forsake the rakyat for revenue from foreigners. IJN must remain in the public domain for the rakyat and must never compromise on these ideals.
CAP urges the Government and the Ministry of Health to immediately rescind its inhumane plan of diverting IJN from its conscionable ideals for the betterment of the rakyat in favour of commercial medical tourism.
The Government must listen to the rakyat’s voice and have the political will to preserve for ourselves exclusively, the one place where our heart patients, in particular, the poor of our country, look confidently for care and treatment without competition from wealthy foreigners.